Remakes: When They Work and When They Don’t

Some movies are so good that you just can’t help but want to see them again and again, but every once in awhile someone decides that they want to come at it from a different angle. Sometimes this works, and sometimes (okay, a lot of times) it really doesn’t. But what leads to remakes? And why don’t they all work?

Why are movies remade in the first place? Part of it is the popularity of the movie: when a movie is remade, it usually means that the brand of the movie has become recognized and could potentially be enhanced with a new director or with new actors. Madelyn Andree credited this to her enjoyment of the remake of Hairspray (2007), saying that the recognizable actors got her to see the movie in the first place.
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This also catapulted the 2012 remake of The Woman in Black by using Daniel Radcliffe, fresh from his Harry Potter days, when its 1989 original barely garnered any attention (honestly most people who went to the 2012 version didn’t even realize that it WAS a remake, and only paid attention when someone pointed out the actor from the 1989 version was the same actor who played Radcliffe’s father in the Harry Potter franchise).

There is also the fact that movies are really, really expensive to make. According to Don McLeese, formerly a critic at the Chicago Sun times, “[movies] are an expensive endeavor, and the more expensive, the less movie-makers want to gamble”. If you remake something that was popular the first time around, like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), then you are pretty much guaranteed to at least break even, if not make money back. It’s like making a really cheap horror movie- throw in enough references and throwbacks, and you’ll make at least half your audience happy.

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At least that is the general consensus- sometimes it doesn’t work quite that well. Godzilla (2014), for example, garnered a large audience because of the titled character, the monster that everyone goes to the theatre expecting to see. However, said titled character was only actually onscreen for eight minutes. Now according to the International Movie Database (IMDB), this was meant to to be a throwback to Jaws (1975) in keeping the monster hidden for as long as possible, which is not devoid of merit. But when your audience buys a ticket to see monster, it’s usually not a good idea to just tease the monster, especially when you’ve teased said monster at three other points during the same film.

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You also have a certain line to toe with remakes, particularly remakes of what are considered “classic” movies, simply because if people loved the originals, they may not be open to changes. Both the Willy Wonka remake, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) failed in this regard. Though both remakes starred reputable cast members and tried a new take on the classic story, a large portion of the audience failed to be impressed by creating backstories where none previously existed, claiming it took the magic out of the characters and the movies- Willy Wonka was a dentist’s child all along? He was supposed to be this crazy, eccentric being, certainly, but not because of childhood trauma- he just WAS. The Grinch had a crush on a little girl Who? Can’t he just not like Christmas and leave it at that?

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So what remakes have done a good job? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, because critics and the movie’s audience can feel very differently about the same film. Though many people have expressed their annoyance with the Godzilla remake, it garnered a 74% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a site that creates movie ratings based on hundreds of reviews from professional critics (the basic breakdown is that anything above a 60% gets a fresh tomato, a good review, and a bad review gets a splat insignia under 59%).
To give you an idea of the range of thoughts and opinions on remakes, here are the opinions of those who liked or disliked a remake, in comparison with its Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Kristen Connor, Carrie: “I personally felt that the 2013 Carrie was better than the original Carrie (1976). Both were similar scripts, but I just felt that the 2013 Carrie showed a little more of Carrie’s powers and her psycho mother. Plus I thought the scene where she confronts the girl who bullies her was pretty badass.” Remake: 48% vs. Original: 92%

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Polly Denison, True Grit: “I was quite surprised by the remake. I’m a John Wayne purist, and you don’t mess with perfection. John Wayne won an Oscar for True Grit (1969). I didn’t think that Jeff Bridges could fill his boots, but I found the remake to be quite good. It was a more mature portrayal of the characters, it delved deeper into their flaws.” Remake: 96% vs. Original: 90%

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Keith Connor, The Fly: “ While the original version of The Fly (1958) is a good movie, the remake was, in my opinion, a superior movie. I felt that they took the story and expanded it well in the remake, whereas in most cases, they may have greater effects, but the storytelling or characterization suffers.” Remake: 91% vs. Original: 95%

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Zac Connor, King Kong: “It was SOOOOOO SLOW. The movie’s called King Kong (2005), it was nearly 3 hours long and it took until halfway through the movie before we freaking SAW King Kong. I hated in Godzilla (2014) how they kept cutting away right before they showed him. It’s like that, except Godzilla at least teased us with revealing Godzilla and was, you know, not a snore-fest.” Remake: 84% vs. Original: 98%

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